Chinese Soccer Has Ambition, Still Incredibly Corrupt

Chinese soccer has ambition. The Super League club Shanghai Shenhua scored major coups in the past two transfer windows, signing first Nicolas Anelka and then Didier Drogba, to contract worth potentially $30 million over two years. The leagues’ ambition, however, cannot mask some incredible corruption.

A three-year-long match-fixing probe has resulted in jail time for 56 Chinese soccer figures. The tally includes two former league commissioners, four members of the 2002 World Cup squad and the country’s most high-profile referee.

Ever since the early nineties, China has allowed some of its state-run teams to acquire corporate sponsorships and investors, and dole out higher salaries. But it was so swiftly overrun by gamblers with the power to fix games that the carmaker Geely dropped its support of a club in 2001, after less than a year. “I was shocked,” Geely’s chief, Li Shufu, told reporters. “For a match, bribes of a million, two million yuan”—a hundred fifty to three hundred thousand dollars—“were offered, and not a single football official or referee ever got caught.”

Like FIFA, the Chinese Football Association policies itself. Unlike FIFA, the Chinese Football Association has hired an independent body to help root out the corruption.

[Photo via Getty]

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